Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, New York

This fall and winter in New York featured an ambitious citywide art project by Ai Weiwei called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Through fences, cages, netting and other forms of “barrier”, Ai Weiwei well-known landmarks as well as quintessentially “New York” locations into expressions of global migration – a complex phenomenon that includes refugee crises around the world as well as the fights for and against immigration in our own country. While the large installations at Washington Square and Central Park perhaps get the most attention, they are also scattered in smaller locations that are part of daily life in the city. We at CatSynth attempted to track down all the major installations and compiled our experiences into this video.

The large sculptural pieces in Washington Square Park and Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Central Park were the most impressive as iconic.


[Grand Army Plaza / Central Park]

The cage at Grand Army Plaza is quite literal, an easily identified barrier between those in the cage and the rest of the city going about its business outside. Of course, one can freely enter and exit this cage at will. The mirrored piece that fills the Washington Square Arch is more abstract, with the silhouettes of human figures forming a welcoming portal in the midst of an imposing fence. This one was the most aesthetically beautiful for me, with its play on reflections and light from the surrounding city.


[Washington Square Arch]

Many smaller installations were scattered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood long associated with immigration and new arrivals to the United States. Indeed, the European Jewish side of my family settled in this neighborhood in the early 20th century, so it holds particular significance.


[Chrystie Street]

Ai Weiwei. #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #NYC Essex Street Market

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One could be forgiven for overlooking some of these (though the Essex Street Market installation is quite large). In fact, one at East 7th Street was just a narrow fence in the space between two apartment buildings. It took me a couple of minutes to locate it. And business at the boutiques and cafes at ground level went ahead seemingly oblivious.

We also made it to some of the installations in other boroughs, including the one surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.


[Unisphere – Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens]

The Unisphere is one of the remaining ruins from the 1968 Worlds Fair and with its positive (albeit cynical) message of global and international solidarity, its an apt setting for reflecting on the current migration crises and increasing nationalism worldwide. The borough of Queens has also involved since 1968 to become one of the most diverse places in the world.

And no artistic journey through the would be complete without Brooklyn. Fulton Mall – a section of Fulton Street closed to form a pedestrian mall and bus corridor – was the site of a series of installations adding fencing to some of the bus stops.


[Fulton Mall, Brooklyn]

One more Fulton Street Mall. Ai Weiwei #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #brooklyn #NYC

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Downtown Brooklyn has become an important part of my own experience of New York in the past decade, and it seems fitting to end here, where older discount stores and new high-rise condo buildings collide. We will have to see how this ultimately plays out…

We end in the Bronx, where this billboard on the Deegan Expressway may not be part of the official presentation, but it made for a fitting conclusion.


[Deegan Expressway (I-87), The Bronx]

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be on display through February 18, 2018. You can read more about the project and its many locations here.

9/11 Tribute in Light

9/11 Tribute in Light

Last night in downtown Brooklyn, we observed the 9/11 Tribute in Light turning on across the river.  One beam was on first, and then later – following the pattern of the towers attack and collapse.

It is a somber reminder.  And it is the second time I have been in New York on 9/11 to witness it.

You can read more about the 9/11 Tribute in Light here.

Amanda Chaudhary / Tania Chen, SMOMID, Teerapat Parnmongkol at Brick Theater, Brooklyn

I recently reported on my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York. However, this was not the first of our New York collaborations. A few days earlier we debuted our set at The Brick Theater in Brooklyn.

First up that evening was our friend Nick Dimopoulos as SMOMID, which is also the name of his invented musical instrument.

The SMOMID is a “Strong Modeling Midi Device” that allowed him to control multiple synthesizers and sequencers. His performance was highly dynamic and uses a lot of familiar performance idioms from the guitar, but in the service of a very different musical style that included fast electronic drum runs and other rhythmic patterns. Overall it was an intense and visual performance.

Then it was time for us to take the stage! We started quietly and a bit tentatively with Tania on melodica and myself on keyboard and synthesizer. As with the Spectrum gig, the principle instruments for me were a Nord Electro and a DSI Prophet 12 (for some reason the Moog Mother-32 wasn’t working that night). After a bit of the sound became thicker and more animated. And then we moved to the central part of our performance: two pop-style songs, the first of which was called “Cheezy Love Song.”

The second was a decidedly more melancholy song called “I Still Love You”, with a darker tone provided by the P12 beneath Tania’s singing. From here we segued directly into another experimental electro-acoustic improvisation that showcased the variety of sounds and objects at our disposal.

Our final piece was a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, which was of course a lot of fun and allowed me to exercise my pop and jazz keyboard skills. Overall, it was a good first performance, but we did learn a lot of things that we used to make Spectrum a few days later a great performance.

One feature of performing at The Brick is that it is a theater. Indeed, there was a play being staged that week, and all the sets had to accommodate the stage set. But it did make for a fun and unusual setting for the music, and in particular we took advantage of some of it within our performance.

The final set featured Teerapat Parnmongkol performing live ambient electronics along with live electronic video.

The music was reminiscent of electronic dance music in a club setting, but it did go off in other directions with noise hits, breaks in the rhythm and more. In the darkened space, however, one’s attention was squarely drawn to the video.

Overall it was a great show and we here happy to share the bill with these other artists. I would also like to extend a thank you to The Brick Theater and to Craig Flanagin for hosting us and making sure things ran smoothly. Hopefully I will be performing in Brooklyn again soon.

Upcoming in Brooklyn: Amanda Chaudhary & Tania Chen / Smomid / Teerapat Parnmongkol

I am in New York this week for a pair of shows together with Tania Chen. We will have some brand new songs and sounds to share. Also performing that evening with be Smomid (Nick Demopoulos) with his unique music instruments; and Teerapat Parnmongkol with a solo electronic performance. For those in New York City or who can make their way to Brooklyn tomorrow night, the details are below:

The Brick Theater
579 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11211

8:00 PM Smomid
8:45 PM Amanda Chaudhary & Tania Chen
9:30 PM Teerapat Parnmongkol

Door: $10 Suggested donation

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TANIA CHEN is a pianist, experimental musician, free improviser and sound artist, working with pianos, keyboards, found objects, toys and vintage and lo-fi electronics.
www.taniachen.com

AMANDA CHAUDHARY is a composer and performer specializing in contemporary and electronic music; an artist; and a developer of advanced software for creativity. She performs regularly around the Bay Area and beyond, both solo and with various bands and ensembles. Her solo work involves experimenting with innovative sounds via analog synthesis and custom software with computers and mobile devices for new modes of expressive musical performance. She often incorporates folk and toy instruments from around the world, along with jazz, dance music and other idiomatic styles into her visually captivating performances.
http://www.amandachaudhary.com/

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The SMOMID is a unique interface/musical instrument created by Nick Demopoulos. SMOMID is an acronym for “String Modeling Midi Device.” SMOMID hardware resembles a touch-sensitive guitar or bass. Its software allows the performer to control numerous aspects of a performance, including the playing of melodies and harmonies, the direction and pattern of a melody, controlling beats and bass lines, triggering samples, manipulating audio files, and more. All aspects of a performance can be controlled from the grid on the fret board and the buttons on the instrument body. In addition to emitting sound, SMOMID also emits light that is rhythmically in sync with the music the instrument is then creating.
http://www.nickdemopoulos.com/

*
TEERAPAT PAMMONGKOL was born in 1988 in Sakon Nakorn, Thailand. He lived there until 7 years old then he moved to Udonthani, Thailand with his parent. In 2006 – 2010 he studied music in Bangkok City, Thailand. After music school he moved to New York City, USA in 2011. He sometime release music album under alias such as Lemur Onkyokei, LO and his own name.
https://teerapat.bandcamp.com/releases

Wayne Horvitz: Some Places are Forever Afternoon.  Roulette (Brooklyn)

While in New York, I seek out new music and sometimes new venues as well. This past week I visited Roulette in Brooklyn to see an ensemble piece by composer and keyboardist Wayne Horvitz.

Wayne Horvitz and ensemble at Roulette

The evening featured Some Places are Forever Afternoon a single suite of twelve pieces by Horvitz based on eleven poems by Northwest poet Richard Hugo. Each musical piece was preceded by a reading of one of Hugo’s poems. The words dealt with a variety of settings, from the natural landscape to quasi-religious stories of journeys and temples (it immediately brought to mind Mormonism, though we can find no official connection there) to bars and taverns. The subject matter appeared to follow largely that progression of concepts, though it was a mixture and also interspersed with abstract text. Musically, there was a continuity among all the pieces, blending contemporary composition and jazz idioms, with occasional phrases that evoked the words in the preceding poem. Most of the music was quite rhythmic anchored by Horvitz on piano, Kenny Wollesen on drums, and Ted Luntzel on bass.. There was quite a timbral spread with Sara Shchoenbeck featured prominently on bassoon and Riley Mulherkar on trumpet lending more of the jazz sound. Familiar faces Marika Hughes on cello and Nels Cline held together the middle.

Overall, it was a good show and well performed, and left me with a bit of curiosity. I look forward to hearing more at Roulette on future visits to New York.